Considered by those who know it as an early precursor to Grand Theft Auto, Mike Richardson‘s excellent Turbo Esprit is an action/driving game where the aim is to catch and arrest drugs smugglers by driving around a city and pinpointing them using a map. It was first published for the ZX Spectrum by Durell Software in 1986.
You can choose between four different cities to drive around in (Wellington, Gamesborough, Romford, and Minster) and four different skill levels. There’s a practise mode for beginners, and you get four lives in normal play mode. A jaunty tune plays on the title screen while you’re on the main menu.
When you’re on the map screen the other cars, the people on the streets, and everything else in the city continue moving along – time doesn’t stop while you’re studying the map – so you have to be careful not to crash while viewing it. This, in itself, gives the game a realistic feel and adds to the immersion.
To locate the drugs cars the idea is to watch the map and see where the perpetrators are congregating, then triangulate where the drop-off is likely going to happen. Then you wait in a nearby side street until the drop-off car arrives. When you have a good idea of what’s going to happen you can then speed off and catch all the bad guys before they know what’s hit them.
The road graphics are pretty good, but there aren’t any animations showing the landscape turning, when the car takes a left or a right – the game just cuts to another forward view. But that’s okay since it’s running on a Spectrum and not a modern computer, so you can’t expect miracles. Pedestrians are simple stick figures but are animated as they walk. Back in the Eighties you had to make do with what was possible in a video game and fill in the blanks with your imagination…
While Turbo Esprit is not for everyone, it is an extremely well thought-out and programmed game and plays really well – if you know what you’re doing. My guess is that most people who played it back in 1986 didn’t bother to learn how to play it properly and just messed around driving and shooting, crashing into other cars, and running people over. Turbo Esprit has an alternative high score table that caters from these people, and tallies up penalty points for those who just like rampaging!
Overall, Turbo Esprit is a classic Spectrum game that was a critical success at the time, sold quite well, and is still worth playing today – whether you want to learn how to play it properly, or just go on the rampage. The only slightly disappointing thing about it is that the game just ends when you’ve caught all the baddies.